GRAEME BRUCE / BRANDON SUN
After 70 years, Clayton Hayes returned to Brandon from Toronto to find friends and reflect on how the city has grown since the Second World War.
As 88-year-old Clayton Hayes rode in the back of a taxi from the train station in Rivers, Brandon emerged from the wheat fields on the horizon, completely unrecognizable from the town he left behind 70 years ago.
The Moose Jaw-born Hayes left Brandon for Vancouver just before the end of the Second World War to join the Canadian Merchant Navy when he was 18 and hadn’t been back since.
"I was busy raising my own family in Toronto, it was one of those things, I just never got back," he said in his hotel room on the south end of Victoria Avenue, an area he previously remembered as farm fields.
After years of postponing a trip back to Brandon, what does the city look like to a man who hasn’t been here for so long?
"My first thought was I’d want to retire here," said Hayes, who is reading the novel "The 100-year-old man who climbed out of a window and disappeared," about a man who decides it’s never too late for adventure.
As he rediscovered the downtown streets, he was quick to point out the areas and buildings that shaped him during his formative years — the Strand Theatre, Rosser Avenue, Earl Oxford School, which he attended for a brief time, and the Brandon Sun office for which he delivered papers for many years garnering him several awards he’s still proud of today.
He recalled his whole Brandon life revolving around 10th Street and Rosser Avenue, the epicentre of the "overgrown cow town" of 17,000 people.
"Rosser Avenue is not so much busy now, it seems downtown is not the most important part of Brandon.
"I was really disappointed, I was going to visit my old haunts, but a lot of it is gone," he said. "But I’m really pleased to see Brandon so vibrant, it’s growing, there’s lots of energy here."
He said he was dumbfounded at the growth around the city to the point of getting lost.
Recently retired, Hayes travelled for two days to Brandon by train with his own room, a poetic return for the man who left town in a boxcar at the tail end of Canada’s Depression era.
Last week, the widower finally decided to make the trip back and simply booked his ticket for the following day from Union Station in downtown Toronto.
"I phoned my son and I said ‘I’m going to Brandon. Tomorrow.’"
Once he had settled in for his nostalgic week-long stay in the Wheat City, Hayes took out a classified ad in the Sun in an attempt to reach out to long-lost friends.
"I attended St. Augustine’s School in 1943 and Earl Haig Collegiate," the ad read. "I left Brandon to join the Merchant Marines and haven’t been back since, that’s 70 years. I will be visiting in Brandon August 31 - Sept. 7 and will be staying at (the) Victoria Inn in Brandon. If any classmates and friends would like to visit, please call me at the Victoria Inn 725-1532."
While no one has reached out to him yet, Hayes will spend his remaining days enthusiastically exploring Brandon, tracking down his old teenage hangouts in awe of the city’s evolution.
And he might even check out the Wheat Kings as they hit the ice tonight for their
pre-season debut, which would be the first time he’s been able to do so since Turk Broda minded the net.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 6, 2013